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Oskar J. W. Hansen (1892 – 1971)

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Untitled (Head), c. 1930-40s, marble on wood base with aluminum band, 6 ½ x 7 5/8 x 1 1/2 inches (sculpture), 9 x 14 inches (including base), initialed “OH” verso


About the Sculpture

Oskar Hansen’s Untitled (Head) is a beautiful example of Depression Era sculpture which draws heavily on art deco stylization and machine age aesthetics. This work bares comparison to Hansen’s most famous sculptures for the Hoover Dam. Sculpted in relief, Untitled (Head) shares the same pursed lips, elongated nose, upturned eyebrows, and overall calm, but powerful, demeanor as Hansen’s two monumental Figures of the Republic and the use of a flattened profile is similar to the composition of Hansen’s plague memorializing the workers who lost their lives in the construction of the dam. A New York Times critic wrote of Hansen's work, "The command of linear motion, repeatedly gained and lost and regained throughout the long history of art is here unmistakable . . . It communicates the same response one experience in the presence of the greater Greeks . . . His sculpture compels this response, so invigorating and enriching, as though one were for the moment endowed with two lives distinct yet indivisible from our personality." Most of Hansen’s sculptures were large-scale commissions destined for public spaces, making small, intimate works like Untitled (Head), a rarity.

About the Artist

Oskar J. W. Hansen was an important 20th century sculptor who is best known for his monumental art deco masterpieces which adorn the Hoover Dam. Born in Norway, Hansen led a colorful life, even if only a fraction of what he said about himself was likely true. Hansen claimed that his biological father was King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway and that he was raised by a foster family on a rural farm. After various purported adventures which Hansen claimed included an open sea voyage in search of Viking treasure and years working as a cabin boy, sailor and mercenary, Hansen landed in the United States where he served in the Army during World War I. Hansen purportedly studied with Rodin in Paris, at Port Arthur College in Texas, and the Evanston Academy and Northwestern University, both in Illinois. By the late 1920s, Hansen began to receive important sculptural commissions and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1935, Hansen completed two monumental sculptures and a relief plaque for the Hoover Dam. Hansen believed the Hoover Dam was “a monument to the collective genius exerting itself in community efforts around a common need or ideal.” In Hansen’s words, his two sculptures, Winged Figures of the Republic, represented the men who built the dam but “on a larger scale [and] the community of which they are part. Thus, mankind itself is the subject of the sculptures at the Hoover Dam.” Hansen’s third work, a relief plaque, memorialized the ninety-five workers who died in the construction of the Hoover Dam. After the Hoover Dam project, Hansen moved to a mountain retreat in Virginia where he founded Pantops Studios. Later in his career, Hansen completed a monumental sculpture to commemorate the Battle of Yorktown and the United States’ friendship with France. In addition to his artistic practice, Hansen was an author who published two books and many articles, a horticulturist, a spiritualist, a mystic and a commentor on many topics, including testimony he offered before the US Congress regarding Middle East policy. He received a Presidential Medal for artistic accomplishment. Hansen is listed in Who was Who in American Art and other standard references.


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